As fundamental as it so to our existence, there are still elements of human reproduction we’re just beginning to understand. For example, while we've known about the mechanism that sperm use to bond to eggs, the receptor on the egg itself that the sperm attach to has been a mystery. Now, however, that part of the mystery is solved: scientists at Cambridge have figured out the mechanism that attracts sperm to the egg, and that revelation could lead to creating non-hormonal birth control options.
The problem with most widely used forms of birth control is the amount of hormones pumped into the body. These hormones come with a lot of side effects, and we’re still learning about more serious problems they can cause with long-term use. Of course, there are always new options being considered: such as a male birth control pill and even a birth control moisturizer, but we’re not likely to see those on the market anytime soon. So finding something that works as effectively and realistically as our current options is a huge deal, and thanks to this new understanding, new birth control options could be available that don't require messing up hormones.
In 2005, scientists discovered a protein on sperm called Izumol: this protein helps the sperm bind to the egg, but that still left us not knowing what device on the egg created the counterpart to enable that binding. Recently, researchers took another look at a protein called Folr4 and realized that what they thought about its initial function in the egg was completely wrong. They discovered that this protein played a huge part in the binding of sperm and egg, and in tests, when they blocked that protein in cells, they discovered that sperm couldn't make the connection for reproduction. Then they worked with mice genetically modified without Folr4: the results were the same: these mice couldn't get pregnant. Because results were so remarkable, the protein got a new name: Juno, after the Roman goddess of marriage.
This discovery may also lead to better fertility treatments, too, especially if medical tests determine a woman is lacking this specific protein.